Archive for the ‘Water & Sanitation’ Category

Why A Well Is Not Enough

I want to tell you about the day I realized a well is not enough.

It was the spring of 2013, and we had just spent the day digging trenches and installing water pipe for a water system in the small, rural community of Miguel Cristiano. Because the trip from the Amigos Complex to Miguel Cristiano is fairly long, we decided to spend the night in the community to save travel time and to have a little extra bonding time with the families there.

It was my first time “camping out” in a community, and I loved every minute of it. I loved kicking around a soccer ball and chatting up new friends as we watched the sun set over the hills. I loved the thick, smokey smell of the grill as we waited for our dinner of chanhco asado to finish cooking. I loved stringing up my hammock and watching the stars as they popped out one by one until there were millions, because in such a remote place there is no light to interfere with all the beauty of the heavens.

And then it came time to wash off the dust and sweat at the end of that long and happy day. Miguel Cristiano was lucky in the sense that, when we met them, they already had a clean water well. Like many water projects, whoever drilled it had installed an old-fashioned hand pump on top and considered the job done. And, certainly clean water you have to pump and carry is better than none at all.


The problem that night, of course, was that without a water system there were no showers, so in order to bathe we had set up makeshift showers (think little stalls made of tree branches stuck into the ground with black plastic trashbags stuck on the sides) and each person was responsible for pumping and carrying a 5 gallon bucket of water to the stalls where they could then take a “bucket bath.”

So, ready to be done and showered and sleeping peacefully in my hammock, I got to work filling my bucket. And let me tell you, it is a lot of work. As I stood there, huffing and puffing and heaving and pumping, I thought my back would give out before I could possibly fill just one bucket. When it was finally full, it came time to carry the bucket just 20 feet to where the showers were, and I thought I’d never make it. I lugged and jerked, foot by foot, swinging and dragging and making slow, exhausted progress as my already sore muscles cramped in protest.

And that’s when I realized; a well is not enough. Even a small family would need a dozen buckets like the one I filled every single day to take care of their most basic needs – drinking, cleaning, cooking – and a large family or one with livestock would need even more.

It suddenly made perfect sense why severe dehydration and the chronic kidney disease it causes are so common in rural communities (in fact, Nicaragua is the only country in the world where chronic kidney disease kills more people than any other disease). If I had to pump and carry my water myself, I thought, I wouldn’t drink as much either.

And that’s why Amigos doesn’t just drill wells; we builds systems. Because no one should have to decide between lower back problems and hydration. No one should weigh the pros and cons of spending half their day collecting water and chronic kidney disease. Because water can – and should – be piped right to their doorstep so they can put the buckets down and give their weary arms a rest.

And ever since Miguel Cristiano finished their water system a few months after our trip, it is (not to mention the fact that their spiffy new Modern Bathrooms have made a refreshing shower just a turn-of-the-knob away).

But there are still countless communities just like Miguel Cristiano all over Nicaragua who spend long mornings walking, gathering, carrying. Many don’t have a clean water source, but even if they do, their lives are still controlled by the ever-present task of obtaining the water their families need to survive.

We want to change that. And a well is the start, but it will never be enough.

Hallelujah for the Valle Los Morenos Inauguration!

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Thank You for an Amazing 2013!

With your help we made a huge difference in 2013. We installed 3 clean water systems.We installed 78 Clean Air Kitchens!We prepared meals for 895 students. We provided 72 micro-loans!We hosted 1407 volunteers!

We All Stood Together

By: Cortney Newell, Missionary

Earlier this summer, we turned on the water system in Miguel Cristiano for the very first time. After months of hard work, the fifty families that live in this community finally have clean, abundant, running water in each and every home.
I have a suspicion that, no matter how many times I attend one of these water system inaugurations, it’s never going to get old. They always involve a massive celebration – feasting, dancing, music and games – all centered around that monumental moment when the spigot at the water tank is turned on and clean water comes pouring out. One of the highlights every time is watching friend after friend – community member, missionary, group member or otherwise – get dunked under that gushing flow of life-giving water for which so many people have worked so very, very hard.
This time the inauguration fell on a Monday, just one day after our newest group of week-long missionaries had arrived. With few exceptions, the majority of this group had never worked in Miguel Cristiano or even been there until the day of the inauguration. As I watched the ceremony unfold, I noticed a kind of discomfort ripple through the group. Should they jump in? Shifting from foot to foot, they wondered. Wasn’t this, after all, really the community’s celebration? Were they, the first-time visitors, really supposed to be a part of it? Were they in, or were they out?
It brought me back to my first water system inauguration, which I attended in a community where I had not personally done any digging. Like our group members, I remember standing awkwardly by, wondering if I was really invited into the celebration – not as a witness, but as a participant. Would it be presumptuous of me to jump in and partake equally of an accomplishment for which I couldn’t possibly take equal credit?
But that is not how Nicaraguans see it at all. With the sincere joy and hospitality that pervades this culture, the community at Miguel Cristiano enthusiastically included each and every one of us in the celebration. Whether we’d worked there since day one, or it was our first day in Nicaragua, everyone was invited – many by name – to share the indescribable feeling of that water washing over them, soaking each heart with the overwhelming reality that God is still writing really awesome stories, each day, in every farthest corner of the world.
This insecurity on the part of the American group members is, I think, an artifact of a culture preoccupied with knowing exactly where we stand. I know I have spent much of my life wondering if I’m an outsider, tiptoeing around social situations, trying not to cross any of the invisible lines that I believe separate me from others. We wonder if we’re butting in; the community of Miguel Cristiano delighted in each additional person with whom they could celebrate. We don’t want to cross the line; the community wanted us to know there had never been any division between us.
Author Gregory Boyle writes poignantly on this kind of inclusiveness, which he labels kinship. When we embrace kinship as our ideal, he says, we begin to see our relationships differently:

Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakuk writes, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint… And if it delays, wait for it.” Kinship is what God presses us to, always hopeful that its time has come.

Previously, perhaps like many who come here, I had always envisioned myself as the one pushing out the boundaries of that “circle of compassion;” I was on the inside by default, and worked to bring others in. But at the water inauguration in Miguel Cristiano, that shifted. We all found ourselves in the-middle-of-nowhere Nicaragua, standing in a crowd of people, wondering if we belonged. And we would have entirely understood if we did not. But Miguel Cristiano wasn’t interested in figuring out where we all stood; they were too busy just making sure we all stood together.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother.” Thank you for standing with your brothers and sisters in Nicaragua, and for inviting them into your circle of compassion. I hope that each of you will have opportunities both to extend and to receive the kind of extraordinary love that pushes the boundaries out until every single person is welcomed inside.
What incredible joy it brings the heart to realize that the only one who ever thought you were on the outside was you.
Read more by Cortney on her blog at

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